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Mike Conley leads the Memphis resurgence

By 01.13.10

Mike Conley hit the genetics lottery. The son of an Olympic gold-medal triple jumper, he is a natural athlete. After he and Greg Oden led Ohio State to the NCAA national title game as freshmen, Conley was drafted fourth overall in the ’07 NBA Draft.

Since then, he has gone from Memphis’ point guard of the future, to backup, then back to being a starter again. Conly could be considered the main reason Allen Iverson abruptly left Memphis after just four games — after A.I. realized he wasn’t going to be handed Conley’s job — and while the young floor general’s numbers this year (10.1 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.1 spg) aren’t too different from his career averages, he has guided Memphis to a 19-18 record through Tuesday’s schedule.

Here he talks about developing into a legit NBA starter, his toughest point guard matchup, and his relationship with coach Lionel Hollins:

On growing up in a track household…
My dad never forced me to run track or anything. I just idolized Michael Jordan and all those guys back then and always wanted to be a basketball player. I had never ran track at a young age, so I just stuck to basketball.

On having it both ways…
I’m ambidextrous in pretty much everything. Sometimes I shoot better right-handed, so I’m kind of confused in a lot of different things. I golf both ways and bowl both ways, so it’s kind of tough for me. I have two sets of clubs — a righty and a lefty. I think people would be surprised to know I’m a good bowler. My best is 256. And that was right-handed with a little bit of left sprinkled in there.

On NBA growing pains…
With the inconsistencies, my confidence took a toll the past few years. But at the same time, I tried to take it as a learning experience instead of getting down and letting it take away from my performance. When I was coming off the bench, I just wanted to do what my role was. I tried to do that to the best of my ability.

On working with Coach Hollins…
Coach had a lot of belief and trust in me last year. He gave me the ball, let me play basketball and let me be the point guard for the team. And I hadn’t had that opportunity before he came. That really put a lot of confidence in me, and I really didn’t want to let my teammates down or let him down. I wanted to prove to everybody that I belonged with this team and belonged as a starter, so I wanted to play like a starter.

On his toughest 1-on-1 matchup…
I’d say the toughest point guard I’ve had to guard would have to be Deron Williams. I mean, he’s a total package when it comes down to size and speed, his shooting ability and the way he sees the floor. It’s really tough to gauge what he’s going to do because he’s going at different speeds and changes gears so quickly. It’s tough to anticipate what he’s going to do next.

On the Grizzlies’ unexpected success…
There is a huge buzz around the city of Memphis right now. Throughout the papers and news and everything, people are starting to notice us and they’re very optimistic about the season — as are we. We think we’re going to have a turnaround season. We’re tired of losing so many games each year. This year, there’s a lot of motivation around the locker room and we just want to prove to everybody that we can be a good team in this League.

On losing the national championship game in college…
I think about it all the time. I never watched the national championship game over again. I don’t even want to. It’s been tough, but you got to take it how it goes. [My teammates] try to take it easy on me more often than not. I hear about it a lot from a lot of ex-Florida players like Mike Miller and guys like that. They give me a hard time about that.

Reprinted from Dime #54


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